COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka marked the opening of its expanded Colombo port Monday, a $400 million project that aims to transform the Indian Ocean island into a regional trading hub by allowing a new, bigger generation of cargo vessels to dock.
The project will enable the port to double its current capacity by accepting mega-cargo ships that hold as many as 18,000 shipping containers to enter the port, helping to reduce freight rates and making Sri Lanka a more attractive port of call.
The port’s capacity will eventually be increased from the current 5 million containers to 12 million containers per year, according to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
The additional capacity will help the impoverished country of 20 million to increase its share of shipping in the Indian subcontinent, according to the Asian Development Bank, which helped fund the project.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was on hand to commission the first of three container terminals at the port. The terminal is a joint venture between Hong Kong-based China Merchants Holdings International and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Each terminal will have the capacity to handle 2.4 million containers annually.
The port was deepened to 18 meters (59 feet) and plans allow for the port to be made as deep as 23 meters, should a new generation of deep-drafted vessels come on line, according to the authority, which manages the country’s ports. It has a 6.8-kilometer (4.2-mile) breakwater and 285 hectares of harbor basin.
Authority chairman Priyath B. Wickrama said the rapid and steady growth in cargo shipments in the Indian Ocean rim countries over the past few decades led to the expansion of Colombo’s port. He added that the growth in size of container vessels has led shippers to demand deep-water channels, deeper draft berths and larger turning circles.
The expansion was funded with $300 million loaned by the Asian Development Bank and $100 million provided by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and Ceylon Petroleum Corp.
Sri Lanka has been spending heavily to upgrade its infrastructure since the end of the civil war in 2009.
Many of the big projects, including new port, airport and a highway in the island’s southern and a coal power plant, have been funded by China.
Neighboring India and Japan have also funded projects in Sri Lanka, which is located on the main sea lines between Asia and the West.